Cass Sunstein is President Obama’s regulatory “czar” (officially Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs). He was a law professor at the University of Chicago, where President Obama lectured about constitutional law. The average American does not comprehend the extent of the federal government’s reach, and few in the mainstream media discuss such things. One exception is John Stossel, who has sought to expose much of the silliness (and danger) of overreaching governmental regulation.
But governmental regulatory overreach is not a new phenomenon. In 1995, Philip Howard wrote The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America. Whether it is the banning of child labor at unregulated lemonade stands, or New York Mayor Bloomberg’s war on the Big Gulp in New York City (with forthcoming popcorn and milk bans), since 1995, the situation has only grown worse. In fact, under President Obama’s administration, the Heritage Foundation observed in March 2012:
Over just the last year, the Obama Administration has added 32 regulations that together impose more than $10 billion in annual costs and $6.6 billion in one-time implementation costs. Those regulations include mandates covering a broad range of activities and products, ranging from refrigerators and freezers to clothes driers to air conditioners, limits on automotive emissions, employer requirements for posting federal labor rules, product labeling, health plan eligibility under Obamacare, and higher minimum wages for foreign workers. The most expensive regulation came from the Environmental Protection Agency, which added five major rules at a cost of more than $4 billion annually.
Last week, I wrote on these pages about the end of the comments period for a possible accommodation to “protect” religious employers from compliance with the HHS contraceptive mandate. As many know, the HHS mandate requires religious employers to pay for drugs and services to which they have religious objections.
So why might Professor Sunstein be the most dangerous man in the United States? His office is responsible for supervising the issuance of regulations by the federal government. But what truly was astounding to me by commenting on the anti-contraceptive mandate was that if one goes to www.regulations.gov website, there is information about submitting comments on a wide range of proposed federal regulations. The website showed that the comment period for 30 proposed regulations ended on the day of my website visit. Further, in the next three days, another 62 comment periods are ending, 181 comment periods are ending within the next seven days, 365 are ending in the next 15 days, 699 in the next 30 days, and 1,036 were ending in the next 90 days.
So while those are certainly numerous federal regulations awaiting finality, those were regulations that were issued a while back. But wait, it does get worse. On the website, there is also a list of newly posted regulations. Yesterday, I revisited the website, and found that there were 113 new federal regulations issued in the past three days, 575 issued in the last seven days, 1,001 in the past 15 days, 1,923 in the past 30 days, and 6,139 in the past 90 days. As a sample of some of the most recent proposed federal regulations seeking comment includes the following: 1) Petition to revise designated critical habitat for the endangered leatherback sea turtle; 2) Exemption from the prohibition against persons with insulin-treated diabetes operating commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce; 3) Turlock Irrigation District; Notice of Availability of Navigability Report for the Tuolumne River, and 4) Notice of Proposed Exemption El Paso Corporation Retirement Savings Plan. Well, now you get a sense about a few of the proposed federal regulations.
Now, I understand that all other presidents of the modern era also issued federal government regulations. During his campaign for re-election, President Obama has contended repeatedly that if Republicans win in November, they will want old people to die in the streets, children with Downs’ Syndrome and autism to receive no medical care, and that Republicans want to return our nation to the days of dirty air and water (frankly, under President Obama, the air in Chicago and other large cities does not seem very clean to me). And having been involved in both small and large business, it is obvious to any freshman in Economics 101 that escalating regulations and associated compliance costs has a negative impact on the American economy.
It is important to remember that regulations do not solely affect entrepreneurs. They also affect those seeking employment by the lack of job creation that results, in part, from excessive governmental regulation. Further, these higher costs of regulation are then passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices and fewer product choices. The resulting uncertainty created by President Obama and his administration has had a devastating impact on the startup rate for new businesses, which are the primary engines for job creation in the United States. According to the Census Bureau, the startup rate, measured as a share of all firms, has plunged to seven percent from 11 percent in 2006, and this rate is almost one-half of the 1980s peak of 13 percent. A recent editorial in Investor’s Business Daily, citing a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, observed that based upon a ranking of regulations, it is now easier to start a business in Slovenia, Estonia and Hungary, formerly Iron Curtain nations, than in the United States.
So how is hope and change working for us? Not very well, I would suggest, particularly for those seeking to create a business or find better employment opportunities. And in fact, notwithstanding the inane recent assertion by President Obama that the private sector is “doing fine,” since January 2008, private-sectors jobs are down by 4.6 million, whereas federal employment is 225,000 above its January 2008 level, an increase of 11.4%. (Bet you didn’t hear that from Katie Couric?)
In I Samuel 8, in response to the people’s demand for a king, the prophet warned the people of the oppressive and overbearing regulation and taxation that a king would impose upon them. Our American system of government, based upon limited government and great personal freedom, presupposes a righteous and virtuous people. Having learned from history that pure democracy leads to dictatorship, George Washington once observed, “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people. The general government . . . can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any despotic or oppressive form so long as there is any virtue in the body of the people.”
Benjamin Franklin further observed, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” And perhaps we, as a nation, have mostly become corrupt and vicious, lacking any virtue, because we seem to need more bureaucrats and government regulations to guide us to more correct thinking and action. (As a recent example, CNSNews.com reported on Father’s Day, “The federal government Web site www.fatherhood.gov offers a wide range of ‘tips’ and resources for teaching men how to be a father, including ‘father-child’ videos on healthy eating, teeth brushing and hand washing.” There are also videos on “constructive play.”) Of course, more bureaucrats lead to more regulations, more guidance and much more mischief, for as we were warned by the great Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, “The worst law is better than bureaucratic tyranny.”
In this election season, perhaps some intrepid reporter might ask the presidential candidates their views on whether excessive federal regulations affect the creation of jobs and wealth in the United States. So, until then, and in the spirit of governmental regulatory reform, here is my simple four-point regulatory plan: (1) a three-year moratorium on any new federal regulations; (2) repeal at least one-half of new regulations implemented in the last six years (this also satisfies President Obama’s mantra that our weak economy is President Bush’s fault); (3) terminate at least one-fourth of all federal government workers and sub-contractors who work in Washington, D.C., as well as ten percent of other federal workers based outside of Washington, D.C., and (4) reduce the salaries of any government bureaucrat making more than $100,000 per year to no more than two times the current median household income ($49,909).
My plan is quite doable since union rights for federal workers, unlike state government workers in, say, Wisconsin (yes, even today), New York and California, are more restricted, and managers have far more flexibility in the issues of pay, benefits, and the right to hire, fire and transfer employees. (That is why, several years ago, President Obama could simply announce a wage freeze for federal government workers.) While I am sure that President Obama and Professor Sunstein won’t like my proposed regulatory improvement plan, but if the President is re-elected, then we can easily anticipate that the governmental shackles will grow far more onerous, expensive and repressive for each of us. In any event, my four-part plan is a good start, don’t you think?